A Utah judge called a convicted rapist a “good man” during his sentencing hearing, triggering an outpour of complaints. But according to one expert, the judge probably won’t be punished for his remarks as they don’t fit within any of the five forms of judicial misconduct that would trigger reprimands.
On Monday, Paul Cassell, a professor of criminal law at the University of Utah, said that at least four of these categories of misconduct don’t apply to Judge Thomas Low’s remarks. While the fifth category would apply only if officials determined that his comments were damaging to the administration of justice, which is difficult to prove.
Keith Robert Vallejo, a former Mormon bishop, was sentenced by Low last week to up to life in prison after a jury found him guilty of 10 counts of forcible sexual abuse and one count of object rape.
During the hearing, the judge said: “The court has no doubt that Mr. Vallejo is an extraordinarily good man …. But great men sometimes do bad things,” which caused a flood of complaints.
Investigating judges who receive complaints is the task of Utah’s Judicial Conduct Commission, it then makes recommendations to the state’s Supreme Court about whether the judge should be reprimanded or removed.
Overflow of complaints:
The commission’s chair, Democrat Rep. Brian King, said that the commission looks into every complaint it receives, however, the information is confidential. However, he said that if the commission conducts an investigation, it could take months.
Later this week, a complaint with the commission against the judge is in the works by the Utah LGBT-rights group, Restore our Humanity. The group claims they have identified several reasons the judge should be sanctioned, including bias and a lack of independence.
Mark Lawrence said that the judge’s remarks “are exactly the type of things that make it difficult for victims and survivors of sexual abuse to come forward. It was completely outlandish for him to say that.”
Since late March, another state judicial oversight commission has received in total 120 emails, phone calls and Facebook messages about Low, according to Jennifer Yim, a representative from the commission, after Low let out of custody after his conviction. But most of the complaints have come since Low’s remarks at Vallejo’s sentencing hearing.
On average, Yim’s organization receives about two or three comments about judges each week, which makes this “an extraordinary number.”
Yim didn’t specify whether they were all complaints or not but said: “It’d be pretty unlikely that people would write to praise him.”
Low’s spokesman refused to comment citing that judges aren’t supposed to comment on cases that are still pending.